Three reactions to a 364-square-foot cottage in Asheville, N.C.
Mother: “This is kind of a fun adventure.”
Daughter: “We can make this work.”
Father: “Maybe we should stay at our friends’ house.”
And one unifying consensus: The 15 minis at the Pines Cottages are cheek-pinching-cute, even if they push the concept of “close family” to its literal edge.
The self-catering cabins are scattered like Monopoly pieces on nearly five acres of land shaded by hickory, walnut, oak, cedar and — truth in advertising — pine trees. The structures measure 360 to 960 square feet and come in three flavors: studio, two-bedroom and log cabin. Most sleep two. Unfortunately, the math escaped me when I booked my family in Cottage 10.
On a cool evening in October, we approached the hydrangea-blue dollhouse residing on the upper tier of a hill. Relying on the car’s headlights, we stepped onto the porch and swung open the cherry-red door. None of us moved for several seconds as we assessed the situation. Three people, one room, no privacy.
“We can get creative,” my mom chirped optimistically.
The main living space was filled with a hodgepodge of furnishings, including low antique-y tables, a dresser/TV stand, a spider-legged stool and a deep-seated chair the color of margarine. A king-size bed large enough to fit Henry VIII and half his wives dominated the room. Inches from my parents’ bed was the child’s lair, an inflated air mattress. One wrong turn to the bathroom, and I could end up with a footplant in my face.
I set out on a scouting mission for other arrangements. I followed the short hallway to the wee kitchen with a stove, tall cabinets and a full-size fridge that nearly squeezed out the other appliances. I considered dragging the air mattress into the kitchen but worried about banging my head against the green Formica table if I heard noises in the night. (The property, sandwiched between two busy roads, is more domesticated than wild.) Goldilocks had it easy.
Seizing lessons learned from HGTV, I pushed the mattress against the front door and positioned the chair to create a room divider. I told my parents they were welcome to visit me anytime, but to please call first.
During our three-night stay, we saw few neighbors (too nippy to grill outdoors or people-watch on the porch), though a staff member said a sense of community often takes shape. Guests fraternize while walking their dogs (or pot-bellied pig) or sitting around the fire pit. Newcomers might even strike up a conversation with old-timers, including couples celebrating their anniversary in the same place where they honeymooned a half-century ago.
We did have one gentleman caller. Allen Shumaker, the fourth owner in 85 years, came to the rescue after the pilot light in the gas furnace flickered out. After the indoor heat wave returned, I asked him about the property’s history.
The Pines opened in 1929, he told me, to accommodate farmers driving from Tennessee to Asheville to sell their wares at market. Before, the commuters would sleep in their cars, on the side of the rutted dirt road. The motor court provided them with a safer and more comfortable alternative: one-room log cabins with a bed and a community bathroom — all for a buck. (A subplot: The founding family, the Pruitts, competed with the neighbors, the Fosters, to see who could open their cabin court first. The Log Cabin Motor Court beat the Pines Camp by two days.)
“The cottages are a kick back in time,” he said. “It’s old-school awesome.”
Four log cabins dating to the first year are still standing; two are for rent. The other original structures suffered fires, insect infestations or other irreparable damage and were rebuilt in a traditional stick style. Modern features — bathrooms, kitchens, insulated windows, upgraded heating, WiFi, gumdrop-colored paint jobs — were also added, uptowning the spartan shelters.
“This is a step up from glamping,” he said.
Cabin 13, for example, is one of the original structures. The two-person log cabin is made of timber culled from the site and includes a hand-built stone fireplace and an iron bed frame adorned with leaf tendrils. Roughing it is having to cross the room to throw another log on the fire.
Shumaker preserves the vintage spirit by combing estate sales for antiques as well as repurposing old farm desks into bathroom sinks and barn wood into kitchen counters. He also peeled back the homely linoleum to discover oak boards. He then funkified the kitchen flooring with a checkerboard pattern.
“We try to stay true to what was here before,” he said. “We buy used stuff and upcycle.”
My parents and I also pledged our allegiance to simpler times. We cooked and ate in the diminutive kitchen, which required us to move like dancers on a small stage. We traced the stars from our porch. Once in bed, we talked in the dark, our voices growing fuzzier as we succumbed to sleep.
To give my folks extra space in the morning, I would stroll the grounds, studying the other cottages with the opportunistic eye of a real estate broker. I passed a housekeeper and asked her which cabin was her favorite.
“Probably 1,” she answered, referring to a 1929 log cabin with an all-white interior.
She then disappeared inside Cottage 15, which sleeps six.
I returned to our tiny house and wondered: Who needs all that space?
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The Pines Cottages
346 Weaverville Rd., Asheville, N.C.
The property, located just six miles from downtown Asheville and 10 miles from Blue Ridge Parkway, rents studios, two-bedroom cottages and log cabins. Winter rates from $99 a night; summer rates from $115.